Donald and Simpson: Fit to a tee

By Jason SobelOctober 26, 2011, 11:38 am

In a year of golf marked by questionable decisions – Tiger Woods on the Presidents Cup team? – and debatable theories – Ban the belly putter! – there have remained two inarguable constants.

Their names are Luke Donald and Webb Simpson – and they are easily the most consistent players in the game.

Flying directly and seamlessly through the heavy winds of parity, it has gotten to the point where it’s a surprise when either of these guys tees it up in competition and doesn’t finish the week near the top of the leaderboard. The season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic featured a victory from Donald and T-6 result from Simpson, concluding their PGA Tour campaigns with a combined 26 top-10s in 45 appearances.

If those numbers prove their season-long efficacy, these numbers explain it: Donald and Simpson were two of the top three players in birdie average and the top two in lowest bogey average. Translation: They each capitalized on opportunity and avoided mistakes.

Those are characteristics every other player envies, but it isn’t easy to crack that code of consistency. Eat more Wheaties? Help old ladies across the street in attempt to win the karma battle? Maybe even – hey, it’s worked before – spend more time practicing?

While none of those would hurt the cause, Donald and Simpson have one major commonality in their regular preparations and routines. Late last year, within days of each other, they both started working with the team from Back 9 Tour Services on their off-course conditioning.

The three-man team of strength and conditioning trainer Ben Shear, physical therapist Jeff Banaszak and massage therapist Craig Knight quickly developed unique programs for each player – two of the nine in their stable that also includes Jason Day, Rory Sabbatini, Chad Campbell, Bo Van Pelt, Tim Clark, Jason Bohn and Troy Matteson.

“For them to put their trust in us and have faith in what we’re doing, it’s an amazing feeling,” Shear said. “You become so attached and emotionally involved with their success and failure. We have great guys who are willing to do the work and understand the importance of it. They allow us to lead them down the path that has proven to be successful.”

We can talk about increased flexibility or how physical fitness promotes mental fitness inside the ropes. But once again, the proof is in the numbers for these players.

Last year, Donald averaged 277.0 yards per drive; this year, that number surged to 284.1. Simpson’s increase was even more pronounced, rocketing from 285.4 to 296.2. Those quick to credit technology for such gains should note that the PGA Tour average drive increased at a much slower rate since last season, going only from 287.3 to 290.9.

“I think the game has really changed since Tiger [Woods] really came on board with all the fitness,” Donald explained. “I think it improves your swing. A lot people's faults in their swing [are] due to a weakness in your body. If you can improve those weaknesses, it's going to help your swing.”

Donald has never been a stranger to the gym. During the season, he works out about four or five times per week and on off weeks that number increases to at least six, if not every day. For a player who competes  on a global schedule – he won the PGA Tour money title and is in position to do the same on the European circuit – it can be contended that conditioning is just as important as the golf swing or short game, though they all go hand-in-hand with each other.

“He’s like the Yankees in baseball,” Shear said. “He’s disciplined, focused, works hard. When I give him something to do, he just does what’s asked of him. Early on, there’d be some weeks I wouldn’t be with him and would text him about his workouts. He’s like, ‘You don’t have to check up on me. If you give me something to do, I’ll get it done.’ He treats it like a professional.”

In another anecdote, Shear tells the recent story of setting up Donald’s conditioning program for next year. After playing tournaments in Ireland and Spain, the No. 1-ranked player flew back to Chicago for lengthy testing sessions two weeks ago – and passed with flying colors.

“I was like, ‘Is he going to be any good for this testing?’” Shear asked. “Literally, he showed up and flipped the switch. It was a 2-and-a-half-hour physical test and he just crushed it. I was like, ‘This guy’s a machine.’ We worked out for the next two days straight and he was great.”

Simpson, on the other hand, was a work in progress when he first came to the training team less than a year ago.

Ranked outside of the top 200 in the world after his first two full seasons on Tour, he started to understand the necessity for his first-ever workout regimen in order to make the transition from decent player to one of the game’s elite.

“When we assessed Webb physically, honestly, he wasn’t very good,” Shear admitted. “We knew if we could get him physically better, he would get better. But a lot of times when you see guys who haven’t done a fitness plan before, they do an extreme program and play bad golf and say, ‘Fitness is no good,’ and then they stop doing it.

“Our goal for Webb was, we’re going to peel this kid like an onion – one layer at a time. A little bit more strength, a little more stability, a little more mobility, so we don’t alter the way his body feels and we don’t alter his swing too much.”

It worked. After posting six top-10s in his first two seasons, he doubled that number this year, including his first two victories and three other runner-up finishes. He now realizes that conditioning is crucial to consistency.

“Yeah, I think so when you're playing as much as we are,” Simpson said. “You've got to be in pretty good shape. If the physical breaks down, then the mental will break down as well.”

Ask any instructor, trainer or confidante whether he was confident that his player could find success at the highest level and you’ll receive a chorus of acknowledgments without hesitation. Deep down, though, none of them knows with a full level of certainty just how good his guy can be, and how quickly.

Such is the case with Back 9 and its two most consistently successful clients. It was less than a year ago when they started working together. Since then, both players have vaulted into the next tier, crediting their new conditioning programs throughout the journey.

“What an amazing thing to be a part of,” Shear said. “At the end of the day, though, they do the work. We just lead them to water.”

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Golf Channel adds Matt Farrell as GM of Alternative Golf & Exec. Director of World Long Drive Association

By Golf Channel Public RelationsOctober 23, 2018, 1:20 pm

Farrell’s New Role Follows Past Decade Spent as CMO of USA Swimming

Matt Farrell, CMO of USA Swimming, has joined Golf Channel as General Manager of Alternative Golf and Executive Director for the World Long Drive Association. Farrell is a 20-year veteran of sports and entertainment marketing spanning roles with USA Swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Warner Brothers. The announcement was made today by Tom Knapp, Golf Channel executive vice president, partnerships and programming.

“Golf Channel is committed to the growth of the game by engaging new and different fans in our coverage of all aspects of the game,” said Knapp. “Alternative competitions like World Long Drive expand golf’s reach, and Matt’s proven track record of elevating sports, both through grassroots efforts, digital extensions and high-profile media opportunities will further fuel our efforts. Matt has a terrific reputation within the Olympic community, where he is known as an effective and strategic partner amongst colleagues across sport governing bodies and sponsors.”

“From the first time I experienced a WLD event, I immediately saw the progressive vision and promising future of long drive as a sport and unique avenue for golf to connect with younger, athletic-minded sports fans,” Farrell said. “And thanks to the investments of NBC Sports, the competitors, sponsors, and event hosts the past few years, we have an incredible foundation to expand upon with a global, long-term strategic plan. For me personally, I look forward to combining my background in commercial development, organizational leadership and digital content at USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee with Golf Channel’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm to grow the sport of golf in non-traditional ways.”

In the newly created role, Farrell will lead all domestic and international business elements for Golf Channel’s owned and operated alternative golf franchises, led by the World Long Drive Association, which has aired on Golf Channel since 2013. For these franchises, Farrell will oversee event sponsorships, marketing, communications, operations, player relations and TV/digital media extensions. Farrell will lead teams focused on further development of additional alternative golf competitions, events and franchises. Farrell will report to Knapp and his official start date is December 3.

Since making a commitment to add World Long Drive to its business portfolio in 2015, Golf Channel has elevated the sport to feature five televised live competitions in 2018, culminating in the Volvik World Long Drive Championship in primetime, and adding the women’s division to televised events for the past two years. Previously, World Long Drive’s exposure was limited to a single, tape-delayed presentation of the men’s world championship on ESPN2. Despite a history as a sport dating back to 1976, Golf Channel’s support drove World Long Drive to be named a 2018 finalist for a “Breakthrough Sports League of the Year” by the annual Cynopsis Sports industry awards. The broader sports industry also has taken notice, including ESPN proclaiming that long drive has “recently started to enter the mainstream of golf;” Men’s Journal noting “with the sport’s ascendant profile and ever-growing prestige,” fans should “buckle up for more high-octane action;” Golf Digest saying the WLD atmosphere is “on the upswing, gaining traction;” and Golf.com claiming it is “an eye-opening experience”.

Matt Farrell Professional Background:

  • USA Swimming, Chief Marketing Officer since 2008, previously Managing Director of Business Development since 2005.
    • USA Swimming is a National Governing Body with 400,000 members and the No. 1 Olympic swimming country in the world.
    • Under his leadership, delivered highest corporate partner revenue in organization’s history, including corporate partners such as BMW, Marriott, MilkPEP, Arena, TYR, Blue Diamond and Chobani, in addition to long-term partnership renewals with Speedo and Phillips 66.
    • Farrell developed partnerships with Disney and Discovery Education, as well as a diversity and inclusion partnership with Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority.
    • Signature programs created by Farrell include USA Swimming Productions digital video department, SwimToday youth participation campaign, USA Swimming House VIP hospitality experience, and annual SwimBiz conference focused on elevating the swimming industry’s business potential, sponsorship opportunities and social media influence.
    • Previous professional experience includes serving as Associate Director, Internet Marketing at the U.S. Olympic Committee from 2000-2005, and Director of Internet Marketing, Warner Home Video for Warner Bros. from 1999-2000. Additionally, Farrell served previously at the U.S. Olympic Committee as Manager of Online Projects from 1997-1999 and Communications Coordinator at USA Swimming 1993-1997, after starting his career in the Purdue University’s Sports Information Office from 1992-1993.
    • Farrell additionally has served on the boards for Adaptive Adventures (2013-16) and USA Ultimate (2010-12).
    • Farrell graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BA in Broadcast Journalism.
    • Farrell, a life-long golfer, will be relocating to Golf Channel’s World Headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
    • Farrell is married to Michelle Dusserre, 1984 Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics, who currently works in international sports consulting. They have two daughters – Abby and Zoe. Abby is currently at the University of Illinois and competes on the wheelchair basketball team; while Zoe competes in soccer, swimming and playing in the marching band.
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Randall's Rant: Tales of the lost and found

By Randall MellOctober 23, 2018, 12:28 pm

Give me a player who lost his way.

Give me a player who lost his motivation, or his confidence, or maybe just his hard-fought momentum, or, better yet, a player who lost all of the above.

Give me a man or woman like that as a winner on a tour Sunday, because there’s inspiration for all of us in those kind of stories.

This wicked, mysterious game comes with the dreary certainty that eventually we’re all going to have to make our way out of some deep patch of woods.

That’s what made this past week so special.

We hit the trifecta.

We didn’t just get one winner who came out triumphant after feeling lost this year. We got three of them.

We got Brooks Koepka winning the CJ Cup @Nine Bridges in South Korea, Danielle Kang winning the Buick LPGA Shanghai and Sergio Garcia winning the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain.

If you’re a golf fan needing an offseason as much as the players do, maybe you were tempted to take the week off and just gorge on high school, college and NFL football. Koepka, Kang and Garcia made that hard to do. They had compelling stories to tell, or to keep telling.

Koepka, 28, ascended to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time with Sunday’s victory. Yes, it comes after he won his second and third majors this year and after he was named PGA Tour player of the year, but it also comes in a year that began with such a troubling start.

Koepka’s success is more remarkable when you remember he missed the Masters with a wrist injury. You can’t fully appreciate where he is now without reminding yourself he missed four months early in the year with a torn tendon in his left wrist, and that he spent two months in a soft cast and didn’t touch a club for 91 days.

“You go from playing some of the best golf I’ve probably ever played to being at the lowest point professionally that I’ve been,” Koepka said on the eve of the U.S. Open back in June. “It wasn’t anything I’d wish upon anyone.”

Six months ago, who would have believed he would seize the No. 1 ranking by fall? Six years ago, who would have believed it possible with Koepka beginning his pro career in Europe’s minor leagues? He’s the first European Challenge Tour player to win three majors.

“It’s unbelievable,” Koepka said. “Look where I started. My first pro start was in Switzerland. I don’t think I could have said six years later I’d be No. 1.”

And then there’s Kang.

Last year, the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner broke through to win her first LPGA title, making it a major at the KPMG Women’s PGA.

By late this summer, Kang’s confidence was gone.

Kang, 26, said she was struggling with the yips over full shots and over putts in a run of missing five cuts in six starts. While she began working out her issues going to Butch Harmon a month ago, she was still wrestling with demons just a week ago. She said she needed “four minutes” to take the club back over a shot at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball,” Kang said. “I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Kang was a bit of a mess early on Sunday in Shanghai, until her caddie handed her a wedge going to the back nine and told her to smash her golf bag with it, to exorcise her demon anger.

“I thank him for that,” she said.

And there’s Garcia, who broke through to win the Masters a year ago but looked as if he might not be worthy of a spot on the European Ryder Cup team last month. He missed eight of 11 PGA Tour cuts leading up to the Ryder Cup, including the cuts at all four majors, but he flipped a switch going to Paris. He returned to his former brilliance going 3-1 to help the Euros win.

Garcia, 38, carried his Ryder Cup momentum to Spain.

“To be able to win here at Valderrama three times in a row is a dream come true,” Garcia said.

Yes, but give me players who know what nightmares are. Watching them find their way out makes for terrific golf theater. It makes football’s shadow a little less formidable this time of year.

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Stock Watch: LPGA raises some Q-uestions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2018, 11:42 am

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Brooks (+9%): Golf’s new king looks built to last, with a powerful game, a rock-solid stroke and a chip on his shoulder the size of his South Florida mansion. As long as Koepka stays healthy, the game’s preeminent big-game hunter will continue to eat.

Danielle Kang (+7%): Two weeks ago her mind was so cluttered that she needed four minutes to pull the trigger on a shot. Battling chip and full-swing yips, she kept the demons at bay to earn an LPGA title even more satisfying than her major breakthrough.

Paul Azinger (+5%): Tabbed to replace the inimitable Johnny Miller in the NBC booth, Azinger was the best and the most logical choice for the job. He’s a sharp observer of the game who won’t be afraid to let it rip, when necessary.

Sergio Garcia (+4%): Whenever the Ryder Cup inevitably returns to Valderrama, even if he’s 65 years old, Garcia deserves at least some consideration for a captain’s pick. His record there is stupid-good: 14 appearances, three wins, seven top-3s, 13 top-10s.

Gary Woodland (+3%): He’s 37 under par across the first two events of the season, with no wins to show for it. Tough sport!


FALLING

Ian Poulter (-1%): Playing in the final group with Koepka in Korea, Poulter threw up a 1-under 71 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 22 – and nearly tumbled out of the top 10.

Slow-play penalties (-2%): Good thing the PGA Tour Champions rules officials finally cracked down on slow play at the senior level – by picking on Corey Pavin and not notorious slowpoke Bernhard Langer, who just so happens to be No. 2 in the points standings.

LPGA Q Series (-4%): The LPGA’s new version of Q-School gets underway this week, and the women’s college golf coaches are not happy about it: The top 5 players from last season’s individual rankings (Jennifer Kupcho, Maria Fassi, Patty Tavatanakit, Lilia Vu, Lauren Stephenson) automatically earned a spot in the final stage, guaranteeing at least some Symetra status and likely a full LPGA card, if they finish inside the top 45. The LPGA is cherry-picking the best from the college ranks, even if they’re not yet ready to make the jump.

World No. 1 parity (-5%): This was just the second time since the world rankings debuted that four players reached No. 1. That trend doesn’t seem like it’ll end in 2019, either – especially with Tiger Woods once again eyeing the top spot.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x